When you think about running what words come to mind?
Here are some common associations I hear from people in the gym:
• I Can’t.
• I Don’t.
• My knees…
Whatever connection you make when thinking about running it’s probably not fun or freedom. If by some chance it is, I’ll bet you’re the exception, not the rule.
My Dad enjoys running. Every year he runs at least one marathon. It was great to grow up having a parent who was active. For as long as I can remember he was part of cycling teams, playing football, social volleyball or running. Nowadays, having just turned 60 years old, “the old boy” is still a willing participant and somewhat of a hobby long-distance runner. He always shows tremendous determination once he puts his mind to something. Although that could just be his Scottish stubbornness!
When preparing for his next event, my Dad often tells me, “When you’re training for a marathon you need to go through 2–3 really difficult runs to extend your comfortable running distance.”
To someone with an exercise background, that sounds reasonable to me. Progressive overload is a topic I’m well aware of.
But then he adds, “You know that they’re going to be complete agony. You’ve just got to get through them and slog it out.”
Every year when we have this conversation I think to myself – “do you really?”
Now a quick disclaimer, I haven’t actually trained for a marathon, a running one anyway — gruelling 100km 7 hour mountain bike marathons are another story.
So, I say to my dad “I know those three runs are going to be a slog for you Dad because you’ve already made up your mind that they will be. But what if this year you build your run distance up by 3km each week and slightly push your comfort zone until you are achieving the distances that you want all while varying your training intensity with some interval work (so you still get to slog it out)?” But he sticks to his methods and they keep getting him through marathons.
The idea of running being fun is foreign to so many of us, even me until recently.
Running for fun
Running for fun is running within your limits, enjoying the feeling and giving yourself permission to stop whenever you feel like stopping. Not for punishment, not to achieve a time, not to achieve a goal or distance, not somewhere you are going to be judged and not to raise money. It’s definitely not to push through the pain threshold while someone yells at you that “pain is just weakness leaving the body” with their best commando impersonation.
Moderate intensity cardio exercise leaves us feeling great and when combined with the outdoors it can be extremely refreshing and rejuvenating. Not to mention the near endless list of physical benefits – many of which are from increased blood circulation. It’s only recently that I’ve started to mix up my workout routine with more submaximal workouts rather than always trying to get the maximum physical exertion during my workout. And I actually feel better for it and not as stiff or sore.
I’ve just come back from an amazing family holiday and while in Positano, Italy, I went for a couple of runs, which were more stair climbing than running. Yes, they were challenging, but I just allowed myself to stop, take a couple of selfies and really enjoy the scenery and the experience.
Running should be freeing
Anyone with children knows that young children run all the time. What do well-meaning adults often tell them? “Slow down,” “don’t fall over” or my personal favourite “if you don’t slow down you will hurt yourself.” I know, I know, if they fall over running on concrete they’ll most likely hurt themselves so our protective instincts are trying to keep them safe. But when you watch children run, they do it with a sense of freedom. They don’t time themselves, they just run. Then they skip, then walk, then jump, then run some more.
Adults should run with freedom too. Somewhere along the way we lost that childlike urge to bound everywhere. For the majority of us our bodies have become rigid from the activities of our lifestyle (or lack of activity), and our lack of flexibility, some muscular imbalances and past injuries make running challenging. It takes a concerted effort to come back from here to a place where running is enjoyable. It can be a long journey, a marathon so to speak. However, there are many people who can help you on that path such as our personal trainers at Geelong’s Gym. And if running is no longer possible due to injury or other circumstances, the same could be said for cycling, surfing or hiking.
A challenge for all the runners out there (and to me)
Take a run without a stop watch, don’t record how far you go or think about your pace. Forget about it all. Take in your surroundings, smile and say hi to people when you pass them, notice things you haven’t noticed before and run for fun.